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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Joey Wendle off DL, back in Triple-A lineup

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Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s activated Joey Wendle from the 10-day disabled list and then optioned him to Triple-A Nashville, the team announced Saturday. The second baseman opened the year on the DL due to a strained shoulder, after playing in only seven spring training games.

Wendle had spent the last week on a rehab assignment in Nashville, so this move doesn’t actually change anything in the present day — he was already playing for the Sounds, and now he will continue doing so. He’s hit safely in five of his six games so far, including a 5-for-8 mark over his last two outings (three of them for extra bases). His total line so far:

Wendle, 2017: 8-for-22, 140 wRC+, 3 XBH, 0 BB, 2 Ks

It’s only a couple dozen at-bats and it doesn’t change anything we already knew about the 27-year-old, but when a player is starting the season a month late it’s especially nice to see him jump out to a fast start. The important takeaways from this news are that Wendle is healthy and playing again, and he’s not requiring a long shaking off of rust to get back in the swing of things.

Hot take: The next question for Wendle is what he’ll need to do to get his next chance in Oakland. Jed Lowrie is off to an unexpectedly strong start at second base, with a 127 wRC+ and the most acceptable defense we’ve ever really seen from him. Shortstop is also covered, for what that’s worth, with another veteran stopgap in Adam Rosales (who is also playing well).

But Wendle turned 27 on Wednesday and is in his third year of Triple-A; how much longer can they keep waiting to let him play? Many of the team’s current Triple-A prospects still need some time to finish developing, but Wendle is as ready as he’ll ever be, for better or worse.

Unfortunately, there’s no good answer yet. It’s not even May, the middle infield is one of the only things going right in Oakland at the moment, and Wendle has only been back on the field for a week — I have to admit there’s room for a little more patience. But I’m talking about a matter of weeks here, not months. If we’re getting to the end of May and the A’s are still losing while Lowrie continues to block Wendle, et al, then I’m going to have a lot of new questions and my Twitter feed might start getting interesting again.

We’re running out of time between “today” and “when Franklin Barreto gets here (and/or Marcus Semien gets back),” if we ever want to take a serious look at these older middle infield prospects. That goes for Wendle and also for Chad Pinder, who is apparently ready enough for the bigs that he’s already on the 25-man roster but is just sitting on the bench most days.

Barreto: Not quite ready

Speaking of Barreto, he’s off to an excellent start in Triple-A, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to get thrown in the fire quite yet. See if you can find which number I don’t like:

Barreto: .333/.393/.551, 150 wRC+, 4 HR, 7.8% BB, 32.2% Ks

Love the slash line. Love the wRC+, and the early power through 90 plate appearances. The walks are fine, and not a big part of his game anyway. But those strikeouts. We need to talk about those.

Some context:

2014, A-: 19.5% Ks
2015, A+: 18.4% Ks
2016, AA: 17.8% Ks
2017, AAA: 32.2% Ks

Barreto’s game is based around making contact, first and foremost. His strength is his hit tool. Based on his current profile, he’s not going to provide his value by hitting lots of dingers, or drawing 100 walks in the leadoff spot, or playing elite defense. He’s going to do so by spraying hits all over the place, and you simply can’t do that if you strike out a third of the time. He’s the rare player for whom I don’t care much about his walk rate, but that K-rate is currently a dealbreaker.

None of that is to say that I’ve soured on him. Not one bit. He’s off to a monster start, and I’m hopeful he’ll be starting in Oakland by the second half of this season. But for a 21-year-old with 24 games of experience above Double-A ball, all those early whiffs are a clear sign to hold off for a minute and let the kid work out his final kinks. I’ll bet he fixes the problem by the end of May, so let’s just chill for now.

Meanwhile, here are stat updates on a few other relevant hitters:

Matt Olson, OF: 63 PAs, .218/.317/.400, 93 wRC+, 3 HR, 12.7% BB, 25.4% Ks
Renato Nunez, DH: 81 PAs, .250/.284/.447, 89 wRC+, 3 HR, 4.9% BB, 30.9% Ks
Bruce Maxwell, C: 47 PAs, .238/.319/.381, 88 wRC+, 0 HR, 10.6% BB, 10.6% Ks

This trio isn’t hot yet, but they’re plugging along — the sluggers are slugging and Maxwell has his normally strong K/BB. Renato’s strikeouts are the one thing I’m most concerned with. Also, Matt Chapman is back in the lineup after missing time to a tweaked wrist, though he’s yet to homer (3-for-20, 3 BB, 10 Ks)

And depth guys:

Mark Canha, OF: 42 PAs, .298/.333/.579, 135 wRC+, 2 HR, 4.8% BB, 23.8% Ks
Ryan Lavarnway, C: 55 PAs, .292/.382/.479, 133 wRC+, 2 HR, 10.9% BB, 25.5% Ks

Canha is quickly getting back on track with some regular playing time, and Lavarnway is a name to keep in the back of your mind in case an opportunity comes up at some point.

Alcantara clears waivers

In another piece of news on Saturday, the team announced that pitcher Raul Alcantara cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A. After three atrocious outings for the A’s this year, the right-hander is finally back in Nashville where he clearly belonged from day one, finishing his development like he should have been doing all along.

Don’t get me wrong, the A’s did the right thing by keeping him on the MLB roster to start the year. He was out of options, and it’s too early to give up on him completely, so their hand was forced. But I still haven’t heard a good reason for why they didn’t apply for a fourth option year for him after he missed a year to Tommy John surgery. That’s the reason he was out of options in the first place, and so until further notice it seems their hand was only forced by a mistake by their past selves.

Now we wait and see if Alcantara can make the final strides needed to transition from being a batting practice pitcher to a legit big leaguer. The 24-year-old has only made 16 career appearances above Double-A ball (8 in AAA, 8 in MLB), so regardless of how much any of us have written him off already the reality is that the book is far from closed.

Blackburn heating up

The rest of the Sounds’ staff is mostly veteran depth, but there are a few prospects. The rotation features a pair of young righties, with Paul Blackburn pitching well so far but Daniel Gossett struggling to find his groove. (Stats thru 4 starts each.)

Blackburn: 1.64 ERA, 22 ip, 19 Ks, 7 BB, 1 HR, 3.41 FIP
Gossett: 6.27 ERA, 18⅔, 18 Ks, 8 BB, 2 HR, 4.34 FIP

Unfortunately Gossett’s numbers aren’t just being skewed by one disaster outing. He’s yet to post a quality start or even complete six innings in a game, and so far he has one outing with five walks and another that included two homers. But it’s still early, so let’s have a spot of patience with the 24-year-old after his meteoric rise last year.

A few bullpen notes:

  • Bobby Wahl (No. 24 on our CPL) has 11 Ks thru 7⅓ innings (but also 2 HR)
  • Tucker Healy (No. 30 CPL) has 5 BB thru 7⅔ innings (but 8 Ks, at least)
  • Josh Smith (vet depth) has 18 Ks thru 11⅔ innings (!!!)
  • Simon Castro (vet depth) has only allowed contact to 15-of-35 batters (8⅓ ip, 14 Ks, 6 BB, 3 hits)
  • Aaron Kurcz (prospect/depth tweener) has faced 36 batters and hasn’t walked a single one (9⅓ ip, 10 Ks)

Saturday’s games

A full slate, almost!

Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Chris Smith vs. New Orleans
Double-A Midland: 5:05 p.m., Grant Holmes vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: 6:00 p.m., Angel Duno vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: Postponed (rain)

The tandem starters are James Naile (w/ Holmes) and Logan Shore (w/ Duno).

Link to box scores