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Oakland A’s prospect watch: B.J. Boyd keeps hitting for Double-A Midland

Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images

The Double-A Midland RockHounds are heating up after a mediocre start to the year. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games and now hold the best record in the whole Texas League at 20-14. If they can hang on long enough to capture the season’s first-half division title then they can wrap up their playoff berth early and ensure a chance to compete for their fourth straight league title.

One key to Midland’s success is that their offense is by far the best in the league right now, by nearly a full run per game over second place. The Hounds’ experienced outfield is still leading that charge, with one name in particular standing out.

B.J. Boyd and the OF

Last time we looked at Midland, the focus was on the quartet of outfielders off to blazing hot starts. All four are still hitting well, but there is one in particular who is standing out: B.J. Boyd.

B.J. Boyd .376/.444/.479 0 10.5% 14.3% .444 163
Brett Vertigan .316/.404/.453 1 12.3% 19.6% .400 144
Tyler Marincov .277/.366/.518 6 11.9% 28.4% .347 143
J.P. Sportman .311/.357/.477 4 6.3% 21.7% .378 133

More for Boyd: In his 28 full games, he’s reached base in 26 of them, recorded a hit in 24 of them, and notched multiple hits in 15 of them.

These guys are only in the range of 130-140 plate appearances over around 30 games each, so of course we’re talking about small sample sizes here. But even in mid-May, that kind of batting average still reaches out and smacks you in the face. What should we make of it?

First, we can’t ignore the .444 BABIP. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s simply crushing weak minor league pitching and ready for a tougher challenge, that would still be a mark you’d expect to regress a bit. Cut off just five singles (.394 BABIP) and he loses 80 points off his OPS.

But what if he really is earning all those hits by scorching the ball all over the place? If that was the case, and at age 23 he’d tapped into some dormant talent that had him hitting the ball harder, then I’d expect to see some extra power too. But that hasn’t happened, as only 11 of his 44 hits have gone for extra bases and not a single one has cleared the fence (10 doubles, 1 triple). His .103 isolated slugging is right in line with his last few years in Single-A and High-A (.093, .111, .107).

Could the unfriendly hitting confines of Midland’s ballpark be suppressing some extra power? Unlikely, considering Boyd’s batted ball data. He’s always hit the ball on the ground the majority of the time, but this year he’s taken it toward an extreme. His rate of 61.2% grounders is second in the whole Texas League (behind teammate Richie Martin), and to put it in context it would rank third in MLB (behind Cameron Maybin and Yunel Escobar). It’s tough to turn grounders into extra-base hits, except for the occasional well-placed bouncer down the line.

That leaves us with a player who is hitting a lot of ground balls that are turning into singles at a rate that almost never sustains itself for any human hitter. Ah, but there is one more factor to consider:

Year SwStr% K% BABIP AVG
2014 12.5% 18.0% .270 .226
2015 9.9% 17.4% .334 .277
2016 8.3% 16.2% .332 .288
2017 7.6% 14.3% .444 .376

2014 in Single-A Beloit, 2015-16 in High-A Stockton, 2017 in Double-A Midland

As the years have gone on and he’s progressed up the ladder, Boyd has made more and more contact, he’s struck out less, and he’s consistently collected hits at an increasing rate. Perhaps the secret he’s unlocking is that he’s becoming more of a high-contact, slappy left-handed hitter who shoots grounders all over and wreaks havoc on the opponent’s defense. That can be a real skill set, and the 2015 Royals showed the heights you can carry it to.

So, while we may look at his current .376 batting average with a healthy dose of skepticism, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that Boyd really is continuing to improve and even finding a niche that fits his strengths. It’s been five years since he was a 4th-round pick out of Palo Alto High School, but maybe he’s finally making his push toward an MLB bench. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on him the rest of the year.

As for the whole group, I’d currently put them in this order:

  1. Marincov (fringe Top 30)
  2. Boyd (sleeper pushing toward Top 30)
  3. Sportman
  4. Vertigan

The biggest gap on that list is between Boyd and Sportman.

Other notes

A few odds and ends:

  • Top infield prospects Richie Martin (102 wRC+) and Max Schrock (97 wRC+) are still plugging along, but neither is making any noise at the moment (good or bad). Yairo Munoz is 5-for-32 with a double since getting a late start due to injury. We’ll check in on them again next time.
  • RHP Brett Graves was recently promoted from High-A Stockton. He was effective in his first start for Midland (5 ip, 1 run, 5 Ks, 0 BB), but he left his second start early with a blister on his pitching hand, according to Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse.
  • Corey Walter still leads the rotation with a 1.29 ERA, but now he’s backing it up with some strikeouts as well — he’s fanned 16 batters in 12 innings over his last three appearances. The rest of the starters have remained inconsistent but mostly solid (Naile, Fillmyer, Holmes).
  • Key names on the disabled list: RHP Jake Sanchez, RHP Trey Cochran-Gill, OF James Harris
  • LHP Brandon Mann, a 32-year-old journeyman, has thrown 17⅓ scoreless innings over his last five outings (19 Ks, 7 BB, 6 hits). The lefty was one of the odd men out when the team ended its tandem starter system, so he was recently sent to the bullpen.
  • Utilityman Joe Bennie was granted his release by the team, reports Lockard. The 26-year-old had a 96 wRC+ in his fifth season with the organization.

Saturday’s games

A full slate!

Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Daniel Mengden vs. Albuquerque
Double-A Midland: 5:05 p.m., Corey Walter vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 6:05 p.m., Angel Duno vs. Lancaster
Single-A Beloit: 4:05 p.m., Dalton Sawyer vs. Fort Wayne

For Stockton, expect to see Casey Meisner in a tandem with Duno. Meanwhile, Mengden is on a rehab outing as he recovers from foot surgery, and Walter and Sawyer are their respective teams’ hottest starters.

Link to box scores