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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Franklin Barreto rises on Baseball America’s updated Top 100 list

These clubhouse mood-lighting photos are so much better than the old School Photo Day mugshots.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Baseball America released an update to its national Top 100 Prospect List on Thursday, and you can see the whole thing here. (Check out their preseason list if you’d like to compare the two.) For Oakland A’s fans, there is exactly one interesting thing about these new rankings: Franklin Barreto is movin’ on up.

Here are the A’s prospects who made the updated list, including where they ranked in the preseason.

25. Franklin Barreto, SS (pre: No. 40)
79. A.J. Puk, LHP (pre: No. 83)
95. Matt Chapman, 3B (pre: No. 94)

Oakland had a fourth player make the preseason list, RHP Jharel Cotton (at No. 84), but he has already pitched enough in the bigs this year to exceed rookie status and so he has graduated from prospect eligibility. (Although, ironically, he was sent back to the minors today.)

Barreto moving up 15 spots is actually one of the biggest jumps in the whole top half of the list, considering this update is coming after only a month of games. He clearly earned it, too, with his torrid start to the season. He’s hitting .347/.396/.529, good for a 145 wRC+ through 30 games in Triple-A, all as a 21-year-old shortstop.

However, with apologies for being a bit of a buzzkill, do note that at least some of this ascension (around 5 spots) is due simply to the graduation of some of the top prospects who were previously ranked ahead of him. Furthermore, he didn’t actually pass any other shortstop prospects between the preseason list and this update — he’s currently seventh among shortstops.

As for Puk and Chapman, their stagnation makes sense. Puk is flashing an enormous strikeout rate but still experiencing some rocky outings, and Chapman has alternated between injured/struggling (to start the year) and heating up (the last couple weeks). They’ll need to do more to impress non-A’s fans.

Hot takes: The bottom line is to look at prospect rankings but not take them too seriously. I’m more interested in who makes the Top 100 list at all, or even the Top 50, than in their specific placements. Our excitement about Barreto’s hot hitting doesn’t require validation from national pundits in order to be legitimate and deserved. But hey, it doesn’t hurt when the experts happen to agree that our top prospect’s stock is improving.

That said, frankly I thought Barreto was ranked too low to begin the year. He seemed to get docked for his pedestrian first half in Double-A, but then got no credit back for tearing it up in the second half and earning a promotion. This ranking better reflects where he probably belonged all along.

And finally, the obvious question: Where does this leave us in the debate about bringing him up to the bigs to make his debut? Personally, I’m still not there yet. Despite his high batting average, I’ve been waiting for his strikeout rate to come down, since making lots of contact is his primary weapon and therefore a 30ish% K-rate will absolutely be exposed at the MLB level.

But he’s making progress! In his current 9-game hitting streak, he’s struck out only 7 times in 40 plate appearances. If he keeps that up for a few weeks while continuing to rack up hits, then let’s see him around the start of June. In the meantime, remember that he has now played a total of 34 games* above the Double-A level, so there really really isn’t a rush here.

* 39 if you count playoffs ... but if the overall number is low enough for that distinction to matter then we’ve kind of proven my point.

Hot hitters in Triple-A

Since we’re already talking about the most prominent member of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, let’s have a look at the rest of the team. Specifically, the lineup full of near-MLB-ready hitting prospects is finally heating up. A quick note on some key guys:

  • OF Jaycob Brugman is back from the DL! My favorite sleeper is once again roaming the outfield and quietly hitting well. Through his first six games back, he’s 7-for-21 with a double, four walks, and only one strikeout (132 wRC+). As far as I’m concerned, give him a couple more weeks to make sure he’s fully back in his groove and then get him up to Oakland ASAP — the A’s need the outfield help.
  • DH Renato Nunez has hit six homers in his last 13 games (1.174 OPS). Granted, he’s still striking out too much (30% over that span, 33% for the season), but at least now he’s balancing out the whiffs with some power. You’re allowed to strike out if you also hit lots of dingers, though even with that caveat in mind he’ll still need to lower that K-rate a bit. On the bright side, his walk rate has also shot up during this hot streak, which hopefully is a sign that opponents are beginning to pitch around him and he’s managing to lay off the bad ones (another thing that temporarily lowers my concern about his bloated K rate).
  • 1B/OF Matt Olson, in 12 games since returning from his latest MLB stint: 13-for-43, 3 HR, 8 BB, 13 Ks, .970 OPS. He still strikes out but keeps it just within the realm of acceptability, and now he’s got the good parts of his game clicking too.
  • 3B Matt Chapman opened the season 3-for-31, sandwiched around a brief DL stint, but he’s back on track in May. He’s homered five times in his last eight games, with a strikeout rate barely over 20% (super low for him).
  • 2B Joey Wendle is scuffling a bit in his return from injury. Through 14 games, he’s hitting .246 and is yet to draw a walk. He’s running out of time as it is and the A’s have shown no urgency in regard to giving him MLB chances, so he’s going to need to step up his hitting if he doesn’t want to get left in the dust by Barreto and the other young middle infield options.

The full-season stats:

Name Pos Avg/OBP/SLG HR BB% K% wRC+
Franklin Barreto SS .347/.396/.529 4 6.7% 28.1% 145
Jaycob Brugman OF 7-for-21 0 4 1 132
Matt Olson OF .258/.367/.452 5 14.7% 25.7% 121
Renato Nunez DH .248/.314/.532 8 9.1% 33.1% 117
Matt Chapman 3B .224/.299/.534 5 9.0% 31.3% 110
Joey Wendle 2B .246/.246/.410 2 0.0% 19.7% 65

As noted above, Brugman, Chapman, and Wendle have less playing time than the rest due to DL stints.

I’m not going to get into the pitching staff in this update, because frankly there aren’t really any new developments other than top relief prospect Bobby Wahl getting the call up to Oakland.

Thursday’s games

The A’s are off, so follow the minors today instead!

Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Chris Smith vs. Albuquerque
Double-A Midland: 5:05 p.m., Heath Fillmyer vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:00 p.m., Dustin Hurlbutt vs. Lake Elsinore
Single-A Beloit: 4:05 p.m., Ty Damron vs. Fort Wayne

Tandem starters: Boomer Biegalski (w/ Hurlbutt) and Michael Murray (w/ Damron).

Link to box scores