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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Unlikely stars leading Double-A Midland

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Double-A Midland RockHounds are on the hunt for their fourth straight Texas League championship this year, but they’re off to a rocky start at 8-10.

Of course, to make the league’s playoffs you only have to win the division in the first half or the second half, so in a way these games truly don’t matter as long as you take care of business later in the summer. Case in point, the Hounds were below .500 in the first half last year, but then got hot after the break and dominated the rest of the way and throughout the playoffs. So, don’t worry about the W-L record for now, because it might turn out literally meaningless.

The reason for the early struggles is obvious: all of the top prospects are off to slow starts. Midland entered with four members of our Community Prospect List Top 30 — Holmes, Fillmyer, Martin, and Schrock, with Munoz on the DL. None of them are playing well yet.

It hasn’t been all bad, though, because some new stars have stepped up in the absence of those top names. Let’s have a look!

Out of left field (literally and figuratively)

Midland’s outfield is full of players who aren’t quite young or hot enough to be true prospects, and are teetering on the edge of becoming the dreaded “org filler.” Tyler Marincov is my favorite for now, largely because he had a strong 2016 for the Hounds.

But the reality is that each one of these guys profiles as someone who, at this point, can only impress me by making it up to Triple-A. Put up an .800 OPS or 1.000 or 1.200, whatever, just get the call up and keep progressing — at these guys’ ages (mostly 25-26) and experience levels (mostly repeating Double-A), they need to make it up soon or never.

So all the better that each one is hitting well!

Brett Vertigan: .345/.418/.466, 151 wRC+, 10.3% BB, 17.6% Ks, .426 BABIP
B.J. Boyd: .355/.420/.435, 147 wRC+, 8.7% BB, 18.8% Ks, .449 BABIP
Tyler Marincov: .259/.400/.448, 141 wRC+, 17.3% BB, 25.3% Ks, .333 BABIP
J.P. Sportman: .324/.359/.500, 141 wRC+, 3.8% BB, 17.9% Ks, .368 BABIP

More reasons I like Marincov: Out of this quartet, he draws the most walks and has the most power. And that’s not just based on these current small-sample numbers, but also their overall careers. In addition, he’s the only one on this list whose gaudy 2017 numbers aren’t simply due to an unsustainably high batting average; the walk rate will surely drop (9.5% last year), but the point is he’s the only one here who can survive on more than just BABIP. He seems to me by far the best hitter, and as I understand he’s not a liability on defense (I’ve seen him make at least one solid diving catch at spring training).

But all that said, he’s 25 and repeating his level, so as far as I’m concerned he’s in the same boat he was in early last year when he was 24 and repeating High-A. That time it worked out, as he started hot and got promoted quickly! So, hopefully he earns some deja vu and moves up again this summer, since there’s not exactly a lot blocking him up in Nashville’s outfield.

Meanwhile, Sportman (25) still gets a lot of love on AN, partly because of his awesome name but also because of some of his underdog traits — a senior draft pick out of college, undersized at 5’9, and didn’t really play his first full pro season until last year because of injuries (which means he basically skipped every level below Double-A). That full season was quite mediocre, though he did win a ring, so he’ll need to keep up this hot start to prove he’s a late-bloomer and not filler.

It might already be too late for Vertigan (26) to avoid that filler label, though, as he’s over a year older than Sportman and doesn’t have the injury excuse for his inconsistent development. At least he plays CF?

Finally, Boyd (23) is the youngest of the group, though he’s been a pro for the longest. He was drafted out of high school all the way back in 2012, in the 4th round no less (six rounds before Vertigan). He doesn’t hit for power or draw a ton of walks, he doesn’t really steal bases, and he doesn’t play CF (EDIT: He actually plays a bit of CF), but he does make a decent amount of contact. I imagine a breakout for him would involve continuing to hit for a ridiculously high average while playing sharp defense in the corner outfield. And who knows, he’s still young enough to realistically make some noise.

(Super-sub Joe Bennie is also posting a 115 wRC+, but at age 26 I see him in the same camp as Vertigan — org filler until further notice, though worth having on Midland’s roster as a role player.)

Add it all up, and we’re left with a big ol’ wait-and-see. Which of these outfielders, if any, will keep up their breakouts and force their way up to Triple-A and onto the prospect radar? My pick for now is still Marincov, who was actually on my Top 30 this past winter (though he didn’t sniff the CPL), but only time will tell.

Martin and Schrock

Infielders Max Schrock and Richie Martin placed 10th and 11th on our CPL, after impressive cups of coffee in Double-A at the end of last year. They’re both scuffling right now, though:

Schrock: .228/.290/.281, 64 wRC+, 6.5% BB, 9.7% Ks, .240 BABIP
Martin: .219/.315/.344, 89 wRC+, 12.3% BB, 17.8% Ks, .245 BABIP

On the bright side Schrock did pop a homer in tonight’s game as I was writing this, which isn’t reflected above. And his signature low strikeout rate is still there, so as long as that remains true I have no doubt his average will begin to creep back up. As for Martin, it’s encouraging to see him drawing walks and hitting a couple homers already (2), and his K% is down from last year in High-A as well.

The peripheral stats look good for each of these guys, which makes me optimistic that they just need some more of their batted balls to fall in for hits. BABIP isn’t always the easy culprit, but I think it is here, just as it’s aiding a couple of the older guys in the previous section. This too shall pass.

Starting rotation

The rotation looked like a strength entering the year, and it could still prove to be if some of these young arms settle down. But in a group that features a Top 100 name in Grant Holmes, and another popular up-and-comer in Heath Fillmyer, it’s the unheralded James Naile who is leading the pack. (Not to say I told ya so, but this is why I kept trying to nominate him for the CPL last winter.)

Naile: 2.75 ERA, 19⅔ ip, 18 Ks, 7 BB, 2 HR

Though you would be forgiven if you preferred Corey Walter:

Walter: 0.56 ERA, 16 ip, 7 Ks, 4 BB, 0 HR

I prefer Naile right now because he can actually strike out hitters, and because he’s still got a low ERA despite giving up a couple dingers already. Walter has only allowed 3 HR in 203 career pro innings, so perhaps his avoidance of long balls is a real skill, but I want to see at least one more year in the upper minors before I fully accept it.

Oddly, when Walter got a spot start in Triple-A to cover for Cesar Valdez, he managed to record 6-of-8 outs via strikeout. That was the opposite of his norm, but it was interesting to see that he is at least physically capable of recording some Ks.

And the two top-rated guys?

Fillmyer: 3.71 ERA, 17 ip, 13 Ks, 7 BB, 2 HR
Holmes: 7.47 ERA, 15⅔ ip, 20 Ks, 8 BB, 2 HR

Fillmyer hasn’t been bad, but he’s been pedestrian and he’s going to need to cut down that walk rate to succeed. Holmes is at least striking out batters, which is a positive sign amid his otherwise shaky line. (Fillmyer’s stats include tonight’s game.)

Finally, Kyle Friedrichs, Joel Seddon, Ben Bracewell, and Brandon Mann round out the 8-man tandem rotation. None have done anything noteworthy yet (good or bad). As the year goes on, we can try to begin drawing conclusions about the tandem starter system and what kind of effect it might have (if any) on these pitchers.

Bullpen: Dominant

The Hounds have five short relievers on their 13-man staff:

  • Sam Bragg
  • Kyle Finnegan
  • Jake Sanchez
  • Cody Stull
  • Lou Trivino

Their combined line: 0.94 ERA, 38⅓, 42 Ks, 13 BB, 3 HR

Hot damn. Bragg and Trivino are yet to allow a run, and the highest ERA is the lefty Stull at 2.35, after giving up a walk-off homer last night in the 12th inning.

Bragg has generally been my favorite of this group over the last year, but Sanchez and Trivino are sharing my attention now too. You might already know about Sanchez, who got some talk on AN last winter after moving to the bullpen and becoming a flamethrowing closer. Via Baseball America: “While he sat 88-92 as a starter, Sanchez’s fastball sat 94-96 mph and touched 99 as a reliever.”

Trivino, though, has never been even mildly on my radar until right now. Like Sanchez, he was a former failed starter who spent 2016 converting to relief. And like Sanchez, he’s throwing hard out of the pen:

These pitchers range in age from 24 (Bragg) to 27 (Sanchez), but I’m far less worried about ages for relief prospects than for hitters. A reliever can find his way up at 30 and still have an awesome 10-year career, and frankly one step to becoming a good reliever is often spending a few extra years failing as a starter, so there’s a good reason why some of these bullpen names tend to be on the older side.

Wednesday’s games

Three games going on. Triple-A Nashville is off.

Double-A Midland: LIVE, Heath Fillmyer vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Evan Manarino vs. Lancaster
Single-A Beloit: WON 5-4, Brandon Bailey vs. Clinton

The tandem partners are Joel Seddon (w/ Fillmyer), Dustin Hurlbutt (w/ Manarino), and Matt Milburn (w/ Bailey).

Link to box scores