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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Matt Olson heating up in Triple-A

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s are rebuilding in 2017, but fortunately they have several good hitting prospects finishing their development at Triple-A Nashville. One way for this to be a productive season, regardless of the standings, would be for a few of those youngsters to establish themselves in the bigs.

The transition is already beginning. Infielder Chad Pinder has been up for most of the year and is hitting well, and catcher Bruce Maxwell has enjoyed a couple brief stints in Oakland. Both players are ready for an extended trial, and are just waiting for a full-time opportunity to come up.

Next on the list might be 1B/OF Matt Olson, who got into one MLB game already this season while the A’s were shuffling starting pitchers on their disabled list (0-for-3, 2 Ks). Olson had a mediocre 2016 in his first try at Triple-A, and he was off to another pedestrian start when the A’s called him up this year. But here are the 22-year-old’s numbers since his return to the minors on April 28:

Olson, last 18 gms: .275/.370/.623, 7 HR, 13.6% BB, 24.7% Ks, 153 wRC+

He’s always going to strike out a lot, but at least it’s at a manageable level now. The crucial thing is he’s finally finding his power, which has largely eluded him in the upper minors. He’s also picking up enough hits that his OBP becomes a factor.

The more Olson hits like this, the tougher it will be to keep him down in the minors. Unfortunately, there is the matter of fit.

For starters, the A’s lineup is already full of all-or-nothing sluggers; what it really needs is some table setters to balance it out. Granted, Olson theoretically brings OBP as well, but his top skill is power and most of the lineup already boasts that claim. More importantly, his defensive positions are already occupied — at 1B is the A’s best current player in Yonder Alonso, and in RF is another lefty bat who is suddenly heating up himself in Matt Joyce.

Olson will have to wait a bit longer for his next chance in the Show, but the A’s roster has evolved quickly in the early going as injuries have piled up. Let’s see what the next couple weeks hold in store — both in terms of his own current hot streak, and also the ever-changing landscape of the A’s depth chart.

Rest of the lineup

Quick updates on the other top hitting prospects.

  • OF Jaycob Brugman is another hot bat in Nashville’s lineup. He’s now played a dozen games since his return from the season-opening DL, and he’s sporting a .942 OPS with more walks than strikeouts. He also hit his first homer of the year on Tuesday. In his 12 games so far, he’s gotten on base at least twice in eight of them. I’m about two weeks from starting my Free Bruggy campaign.
  • SS Franklin Barreto has finally run into a slump after a scorching start to the year. Over his last 10 games since the team began its most recent homestand, he’s gone 9-for-44, for a .535 OPS and 37 wRC+. On the bright side, he’s been striking out less during this stretch, at 21.7% (down from the low 30s). Lowering that K-rate is the thing I’ve been asking to see out of him this year, so although the hits aren’t falling in as often as they were, there is still a positive to take away from this rough patch.
  • 3B Matt Chapman hit his seventh homer of the year on Wednedsay, in his 23rd game. Still striking out so, so much though (34.4%).
  • DH Renato Nunez is tied with Olson for the team lead in HR, but it’s hard to see where he’ll fit into Oakland’s lineup until/unless there are some major shakeups or if Nunez himself suddenly goes ham (good sign: slugging .556 in May).

Full stats below. (Updated Thu. morning to include the Wed. game)

Name Pos Avg/OBP/SLG HR BB% K% wRC+
Jaycob Brugman* OF .383/.453/.489 1 11.3% 9.4% 153
Bruce Maxwell* C .317/.379/.517 1 9.1% 12.1% 136
Matt Olson OF .250/.350/.508 9 13.6% 25.0% 123
Franklin Barreto SS .313/.364/.483 5 6.7% 27.0% 122
Renato Nunez DH .241/.301/.511 9 8.2% 30.8% 106
Matt Chapman* 3B .214/.292/.512 7 9.4% 34.4% 101
Joey Wendle* 2B .259/.292/.400 2 3.4% 19.1% 79

* still under 100 plate appearances due to missing time to injury, or in Maxwell’s case due to stints on the MLB squad.

Not looking good for Wendle in the early going, especially with Jed Lowrie and Chad Pinder both playing well in Oakland.

Welcome back Cotton

The pitching staff has gotten more interesting. Jharel Cotton was sent back down from the A’s rotation, and he joins injury rehabbers like Daniel Mengden, Chris Bassitt, and John Axford in Nashville. Unfortunately, Cotton got knocked around a bit in his first start back in the minors, allowing two homers over five innings — including one to Tyler White, whom you might remember from the Astros last year. On the bright side, Cotton did put up 4 Ks, 0 BB.

Following Cotton as he searches for his lost groove will now be one of the key stories to watch in Nashville, but in the meantime there are still two up-and-coming prospects to keep an eye on.

Daniel Gossett: 4.31 ERA, 39⅔ ip, 36 Ks, 19 BB, 2 HR, 4.09 FIP
Paul Blackburn: 4.54 ERA, 35⅔ ip, 28 Ks, 11 BB, 4 HR, 4.55 FIP

(Numbers updated Thu. morning)

In half of Gossett’s eight starts, he’s walked at least three batters. That’s unlike him, and it’ll have to change before he can be a viable MLB starter. The good news is that neither of these right-handers needs to be in any kind of hurry — they’re both 23-24 years old and they’ve combined for 18 career games at the Triple-A level. In the meantime, the A’s rotation is as healthy as it’s been all year, with Cotton representing some honest-to-goodness MLB depth.

And how about this stat line?

Raul Alcantara, AAA: 1.50 ERA, 12 ip, 10 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR, 2.32 FIP

Only one walk, no HBP, no wild pitches. What will it take for this guy to show up in Oakland?

Roster shuffle

Nashville said goodbye to a couple of players recently:

Detwiler was pure veteran filler, and the A’s didn’t end up needing him. Lambo came back after cancer ended his 2016 season, but he’s coming off the DL to a big logjam of hitters in the corner positions. Best of luck to both!

In their place, a familiar face returns: OF Jaff Decker, who cleared waivers and was outrighted back to Triple-A. He’ll return to find Brugman playing CF now, though, and even without Lambo there are still a lot of outfielders on the roster.

Speaking of the crowded roster, these early cuts do lead to the question of when the A’s will start to make some tough decisions. Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse lists 10 prospects worthy of promotions, including six RockHounds who deserve chances in Triple-A — and that’s not even counting the red-hot B.J. Boyd.

In order for them to move up someone else will have to move out, and there are some prime candidates in redundant veterans like outfielders Chris Parmelee, Ryan LaMarre, and Kenny Wilson, and pitchers Tyler Sturdevant and Chris Jensen, to name a few.

Wednesday’s games

Full slate.

Triple-A Nashville: Lost 6-5, Daniel Gossett. vs. Fresno
Double-A Midland: Lost 7-4, Brett Graves vs. Frisco
High-A Stockton: LIVE, A.J. Puk vs. Inland Empire
Single-A Beloit: Won 7-6, Dakota Chalmers vs. Kane County

In Double-A, Max Schrock homered twice and Yairo Munoz homered for the second straight game.

Link to box scores